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This is an updated version of a story written by Yvonne Jasinski.
Are you struggling with your Iceland packing list? No wonder! The country’s beauty is extraordinary, but so is its climate. Icelandic weather is predictably unpredictable. Whether you’re planning a city break in Reykjavik or driving along Iceland’s Ring Road through remote rural areas, you’ll need to pack smart to stay warm and dry. And you’ll want to bring everything you need before you arrive. Iceland is not the country to improvise!
I did not have a good Iceland packing list before my trip to Iceland. I expected it to be cold. But it was September, so how bad it could be? Now I know that Iceland is not extremely cold, but if you combine relatively low temperatures with wind, sleet, rain, or snow, you can face some harsh conditions. I usually overpack thinking about the worst possible scenario, so I had everything I needed, but it was an uneducated guess. I do not recommend improvising when visiting Iceland. This Iceland packing list includes everything you’re likely going to need.
The joke goes: If you don’t like Icelandic weather, just wait five minutes. It is a cold country any season due to the location just south of the Arctic Circle. Cold winds blow in from the North Pole, but they are tempered by the ocean and mild Gulf Stream. The result is a perpetually unstable climate, with sudden changes in weather and temperature. On the plus side, the temperature range is limited, both between day and night and between winter and summer. Still, calm and sunny periods are rare.
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The south of the island averages around 32 F in winter, while the north tends to average around 14 F. Only in the far north parts do the lowest temperatures range from around −13 to −22 F.
Iceland Packing Tips
Pack for winter regardless of the time of year
After my trip, I can offer you this description of Icelandic weather – winter! You can hope for the best but always take into consideration the worst possible scenario. That means some snow even in the peak of summer, mixed with rainy days, gusty wind, fog, and sleet. Because you need to be ready for all of this at any time of the year, your Iceland packing list does not really change much by season.
Bring everything you might need
Don’t expect to head to the Walmart around the corner to buy gloves if you forgot to pack them. There are few places to shop outside of Reyjkavik. If you do not bring what you need, there is no plan B, especially if you travel the Ring Road. You will find long stretches of land with no facilities, not even gas stations. Also, if you find what you need, you will not like the prices. Iceland is very expensive!
Layers are the answer
This is one of the essential travel tips when visiting Iceland. Using the layer system allows you to modify your clothing to meet a range of temperatures without needing to pack too much. A base layer’s job is moving perspiration away from your skin. In cool or cold conditions, wicking long-underwear-style base layers keep your skin dry. The middle layer helps you retain the heat that’s radiated by your body. The more efficiently this layer traps that heat the warmer you’ll be. A waterproof outer layer protects you from wind, rain, and snow.
Bring long-lasting chargers for your electronics
You do not want to miss any photo opportunities because your phone just died. The cold Icelandic weather will zap the battery life of your electronics. Because you will be spending a good chunk of your days on the road, make sure to have a car charger too. Also, you want to stay connected in case of an emergency. There are many places in Iceland where you will be miles away from help. And in winter, help could be days away!
Always pack a day bag
Why is it so important to have a day bag? It is because you will be dealing not just with unpredictable weather but also with the rough Icelandic landscape. We are talking waterfalls, mud, slippery rocks, ice, ocean waves, and more. Even if you are extra careful, you may fall and get muddy or wet. You need extras to stay warm and dry. The day bag will keep everything in one place within easy access. You do not want to dig out your large suitcase each time you need something; it could mean unloading an entire car.
Even if you are just taking a day trip from Reykjavik to see the Golden Circle or Blue Lagoon, you will need a day bag. Keep it in your car or on a bus. Again, Iceland is not a country where you can frequently stop to buy snacks or replace wet gloves. A day bag is especially important for those visitors who take a road trip around the island to follow the famous Ring Road. You will not be just traveling from point A to B; you will frequently stop to see attractions on the way in remote areas. This is why you will need easy access to your belongings. I used my carry-on suitcase as my day bag during my Iceland trip.
Iceland Packing List – Day Bag
- Daypack: This is not the same as your day bag! I am talking about the lightweight foldable water-resistant pack that you will take on shorter hikes. You will need it to carry water, some food and a raincoat.
- Ziploc and garbage bags for wet or muddy items
- Dry socks
- Extra boots or sneakers
- Extra gloves
- Spare hat
- Hand and foot warmers
- Ski mask for protection from cold, wind, snow, or sleet
- Extra water
- Snacks and sandwiches
- Thermos with a hot drink
- Swimsuit, flip-flops, and a travel towel. This is in case you stumble upon Icelandic hot springs along the road, or if you want to end your day of exploring with a visit to famous hot springs like the Blue Lagoon, GeoSea in Husavik, or Myvatn Nature Baths.
- Lip balm
Iceland Packing List: Clothing
Clothing for Hiking
- Midweight polyester long underwear top and bottom
- Midweight fleece pants or thermal leggings
- Lightweight fleece jacket
- Waterproof pants
- Waterproof parka with synthetic insulation and a hood
- Rain jacket with a hood
- Lightweight down jacket
- Synthetic hiking pants
- Two warm scarves
- Two pairs of gloves
- Wool socks
- One good pair of waterproof hiking boots
- Two warm hats
- One pair of hiking shoes or another pair of hiking boots as a backup
- Windproof parka
Clothing for Other Activities
Restaurants in Iceland are rather casual, but if you want to enjoy some nightlife in Reykjavik your muddy clothes and boots may need to stay behind. And, if you are not completely exhausted after a day of hiking, you will probably want to wear some dressier outfits for dinner at your hotel.
- One pair of jeans
- One pair khakis or slacks
- Blouse or button-down shirt
- Dressy scarf as an accessory
- Two sweaters or sweater and a fleece jacket
- Long sleeve t-shirt
Iceland Packing List – Electronics
- Cell phone and charger
- Old cellular phone as a backup
- Camera and charger
- GoPro and charger
- Portable Wi-Fi for the many areas where there is no cellular service
- Iceland Power Adapter and European style plugs – Iceland’s electrical outlets require 220 volts, 50Hz and electric devices in the country use the European-style plug, which has two round prongs. It is crucial to keep in mind the voltage of the items you will be bringing – you do not want to bring high-power appliances such as hairdryers.
- Ziploc and garbage bags to protect your backpack and camera equipment from often furious Icelandic weather
Iceland Packing List – Other Stuff
- Toiletries – bring what you need with you. Iceland needs to import almost anything, so finding the item you want may be difficult.
- Washcloth – no washcloths in Icelandic hotels. It is an American thing!
- Credit cards – more than one! Credit cards are widely accepted, but on occasion they may not work. Have a backup!
- Cash for tipping and restrooms (the majority of them are free) (Read our guide on changing currency for international travel.)
- Debit card, just in case
- Iceland travel guide
- Sleep mask – If you are traveling to Iceland between June and August, the famous Midnight Sun can interrupt your sleep pattern. Using a mask at bedtime will help avoid confusing your body’s internal clock.
- Refillable water bottle – Tap water in Iceland is safe to drink.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Know your credit card pin, you will need it to buy gas.
Remember, Iceland can challenge your packing skills, so be ready. Planning a trip to Iceland has many challenges. Here is the Complete Guide to Planning an Iceland Road Trip.